The Oakland Athletics were the American League’s dominant team in 1988, running away with the Western Division title by finishing the regular season with a record of 104-58, 13 games ahead of the defending world champion Minnesota Twins.
Although the Twins finished a distant second, they featured two of the league’s top performers in Kirby Puckett and Frank Viola. Puckett hit 24 home runs, placed second in the circuit with 121 runs batted in and a .356 batting average, scored 109 runs, and led the A.L. with 234 hits. Viola earned Cy Young honors by going 24-7, with a 2.64 ERA, 193 strikeouts, and 255 innings pitched.
Despite the efforts of Puckett and Viola, the Twins never mounted a serious challenge to the powerful A’s, who clearly established themselves as the American League’s elite team over the course of the regular season. Strong both on the mound and at the bat, the A’s finished second in the junior circuit with 800 runs scored and 156 home runs, and their team ERA of 3.44 placed them first in the league rankings.
Dave Stewart led the Oakland pitching staff with a 21-12 record, a 3.23 ERA, 192 strikeouts, and a league-leading 276 innings pitched and 14 complete games. Bob Welch went 17-9, while Storm Davis contributed another 16 victories. Meanwhile, Dennis Eckersley evolved into baseball’s best relief pitcher in just his second year as a full-time closer. Eckersley topped the circuit with 45 saves, compiled a 2.35 earned run average, and struck out 70 batters in 72 innings of work, while surrendering only 52 hits to the opposition.
Dave Henderson, Mark McGwire, and Jose Canseco paced the A’s on offense. Henderson hit 24 home runs, knocked in 94 runs, scored 100 others, and batted .304. McGwire hit 32 homers and drove in 99 runs. Canseco earned A.L. MVP honors by topping the circuit with 42 home runs, 124 runs batted in, and a .569 slugging percentage, while also batting .307, scoring 120 runs, and stealing 40 bases. Canseco’s 42 homers and 40 steals made him the first player in major league history to reach the 40-mark in both categories in the same season.
While the A’s had a relatively easy time winning the Western Division crown, the Boston Red Sox encountered significantly more resistance in the East, where five teams remained in contention until the season’s final week. Boston clinched the division title on the last day of the regular season, edging out the second-place Detroit Tigers by only one game, with a record of 89-73. The Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays finished tied for third in the division, just two games back, while the Yankees came in a close fifth, only 3 ½ games off the pace.
The Yankees featured two of the league’s top players in Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield. Henderson batted .305, scored 118 runs, and led the league with 93 stolen bases. Winfield hit 25 home runs, drove in 107 runs, and batted .322.
However, the Red Sox were the division’s most well-balanced team, leading the league with 813 runs scored, a .283 team batting average, and a .357 team on-base percentage, while also compiling a very respectable team ERA of 3.97.
Roger Clemens and Bruce Hurst anchored Boston’s pitching staff. Clemens won 18 games, compiled a 2.93 ERA, and led all A.L. hurlers with 291 strikeouts, 14 complete games, and eight shutouts. Hurst posted an exceptional 18-6 record and finished second on the staff with 166 strikeouts, seven complete games, and 217 innings pitched.
On offense, Dwight Evans hit 21 home runs, drove in 111 runs, scored 96 others, and batted .293. Centerfielder Ellis Burks hit 18 homers, knocked in 92 runs, scored another 93, batted .294, and stole 25 bases. Wade Boggs had one of his finest seasons, winning his fourth straight batting title with a mark of .366. He also collected 214 hits and led the league with 128 runs scored, 45 doubles, 125 bases on balls, and a .480 on-base percentage. Replacing Jim Rice as the team’s regular left-fielder, Mike Greenwell hit 22 home runs and placed among the league leaders with 119 runs batted in, a .325 batting average, and a .420 on-base percentage. The 24-year-old outfielder’s outstanding performance earned him a second-place finish in the league MVP balloting.
The Red Sox proved to be no match for the A’s in the ALCS, dropping the Series in four straight games. Boston put up a good fight in the first two contests, losing both by a single run. However, the A’s overpowered the Red Sox when the Series shifted to Oakland for the next two games, outscoring their opponents by a combined margin of 14-7. Although Jose Canseco homered in three of the four contests, ALCS MVP honors went to Dennis Eckersley, who saved all four games and allowed just one hit in six scoreless innings of work.
The World Series pitted the A’s against the upset-minded Dodgers, who surprised virtually everyone by getting past the Mets in the NLCS. The Dodgers worked their magic again in the Fall Classic, stunning the heavily-favored A’s by defeating them in five games. The turning point of the Series occurred in the very first game, when a limping Kirk Gibson turned an apparent 4-3 Oakland win into a 5-4 Los Angeles victory by coming off the bench to hit a dramatic pinch-hit two-run homer off Dennis Eckersley with two men out in the bottom of the ninth inning. Gibson’s blast gave the Dodgers all the momentum they needed to cap a truly remarkable postseason run.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• April 12 - The Baltimore Orioles dismissed manager Cal Ripken after losing their sixth consecutive game at the start of the season. The Orioles replaced Ripken with Frank Robinson, who subsequently piloted the team to another 15 straight losses. Baltimore’s 21 consecutive losses at the start of the season established a new major league record.
• July 29 - The Boston Red Sox traded away Brady Anderson and future World Series hero Curt Schilling to the Baltimore Orioles for Mike Boddicker.
• September 8 – The owners unanimously elected A. Bartlett Giamatti to replace outgoing Commissioner Peter Ueberroth.
• Toronto’s Fred McGriff batted .282, scored 100 runs, and placed second in the league with 34 home runs and a .552 slugging average.
• Milwaukee’s Robin Yount batted .306, knocked in 91 runs, and scored 92 others.
• Brewer teammate Paul Molitor finished among the league leaders with a .312 batting average, 115 runs scored, and 41 stolen bases.
• Oakland’s Walt Weiss earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• The Yankees fired Billy Martin as their manager for a record fifth time.
• The American League won the All-Star Game 2-1 in Cincinnati.
• Toronto's Dave Stieb lost a no-hitter with two men out in the ninth inning in two consecutive starts.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Willie Stargell.
• Hall of Famers Carl Hubbell and Edd Roush both passed away. Roush, 94, was the last surviving participant of the 1919 World Series.
• Harvey Kuenn died.
• Kansas City’s Mark Gubicza won 20 games and finished among the league leaders with 270 innings pitched and a 2.70 ERA.
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- 1988 ALCS, 1988 World Series, American League, Billy Martin, Bob Welch, Boston Red Sox, Bruce Hurst, Carney Lansford, Dave Henderson, Dave Stewart, Dave Stieb, Dave Winfield, Dennis Eckersley, Dwight Evans, Ellis Burks, Frank Viola, Fred McGriff, Harvey Kuenn, Joe Carter, Jose Canseco, Kirby Puckett, Kirk Gibson, Mark Gubicza, Mark McGwire, Mike Greenwell, Oakland Athletics, Paul Molitor, Rickey Henderson, Robin Yount, Roger Clemens, Storm Davis, Wade Boggs, Walt Weiss